By Gloria Partida along with the boards of Team Davis and Davis Phoenix Coalition
The merits and evils of Facebook will undoubtedly be debated from many perspectives for many years. Recently, this snippet of humanity ran across my feed.
A family in Davis with a son having multiple disabilities sat in a movie theater on Christmas Day. The movie was a comedy; what unfolded off screen was a tragedy.
The father wrote that in response to his son’s vocalizations during the movie, a couple of young men strongly expressed their displeasure. When he informed them that his son had autism, the response received was, “I don’t care if he has autism, if he does, you shouldn’t have brought him to the movie theater.” To further the insult, one of the young men spat at the father’s feet on the way out.
Autism is described as “a lifelong disability that usually appears before a child is 3 years old. The disability has no known cure. Children are either born with the disorder or with the potential to develop the symptoms.
“Symptoms and characteristics appear in a wide variety of combinations ranging from mild to severe. Children and adults with autism are said to ‘be on the spectrum’ and the disability is referred to as autism spectrum disorder or ASD.”
Judging from this experience, spectrum disorders are not confined to autism but also to a far more debilitating disorder known as intolerance. Like autism, the symptoms appear in a wide variety of combinations, ranging from teasing that is dismissed with “I was only kidding,” to severe beatings and sometimes death.
Unfortunately, unlike autism, all children are born with the potential to develop the symptoms of intolerance. The cure is as debatable as the merits of Facebook.
The community of people with disabilities in Davis is a gem of unbounded ability and strength. This community is supported by a huge intersection of allies; family members, civic leaders, medical professionals, educators and casual observers all sharing the deep-seated knowledge that compassion is the glue of communal prosperity.
Its advocacy for the rights and respect of people with disabilities has contributed to full inclusion in our schools and city recreation programs that standards are set by. Our local Special Olympics program (Team Davis) has broken national records and, most importantly, has given people a place to cultivate pride and camaraderie. All of this is done with the underlying hope that our children will be seen as fellows rather than “others.”
And still, for all the advocacy, dialogue and awareness-raising exerted to prevent acts of intolerance, violence and misunderstandings, they continue to happen. Are we doing this all wrong? Is something missing? Have we reached activist fatigue?
This is where the debate around the cure becomes complicated, because intolerance is a living, breathing entity that mutates with each iteration of paradigm shifts to replicate in new generations.
We have long operated from a standpoint that if we understand, appreciate and “celebrate” our differences, we cannot commit acts of intolerance against our neighbors. We have tried to teach our children to respect each other and be kind. All good efforts.
The fallacy in this is that even if I did not understand my neighbor, I would not throw a brick through his or her window. True acts of intolerance and disrespect such as spitting at a father’s feet on Christmas Day come from other places.
One of those places is deficit. Deficit is not a word typically associated with Davis, but some of our children are clearly not having their needs met and the outcomes, as we have seen in current news stories, can be devastating.
A look at our school district website shows the response to this realization. Under the family tab of the DJUSD website there is clearly now a Crisis and Prevention link. Still, it is not readily found and has to be hunted and sought out. What to do about bullying is even further buried.
Compare this to the Sacramento Unified School District website, where support and engagement is front and center and under “Resources.” What to do about bullying is listed under almost any section you choose.
Is this because Sacramento has different problems in its school population or different priorities? Most likely a little of both. However, our tendency to behave as doting parents blinds us to the monster being created. This lack of objectivism will sink all of the potential we hold in such high esteem.
One of the best responses to the Facebook post was this: “… our ‘culture of excellence’ in Davis, whether it be for athletics or academics, is occasionally accompanied by a harsh underbelly of intolerance for anyone who needs extra help or falls outside our very narrow definition of achievement-focused normativity. Fierce competition and an absence of true inclusion can easily breed lack of compassion. All of which, in the end, hurts everybody.”
— Gloria Partida represents the Davis Phoenix Coalition board of directors. The Team Davis board includes Robin Dewey, Steve Nowicki, Kelly McDonald, Laura Hall, Bo Lonnerdal and Ann Reioux.